Twenty-nine European nations
unanimously agreed May 22 to an overall space policy that acknowledges the inherently dual-use nature of space technology and accepts that the future Galileo satellite navigation system will be open to military use.
Meeting May 22 in Brussels, Belgium, ministers from the 27-nation European Union and the 17-nation European Space Agency (ESA) – most nations are members of both organizations – adopted what they called a European Space Policy that has been debated for three years.
The nine-page document is short on specifics. It puts off to a later date a plan of implementing the new principles that, henceforth, should guide ESA and the European Union’s executive commission.
The document was approved at the 4th Space Council, which assembles research and industry ministers from the two organizations’ member governments.
At a press briefing in Brussels, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain and European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen said the new policy ultimately should reduce duplication in space spending among individual European nations and offer better assurance to taxpayers that their money is being well spent.
The policy places the European Commission in the driver’s seat in setting European space priorities, with ESA assuming the role of technical manager of European Union space programs.
Turf battles have troubled ESA-European Commission relations in the past. But Dordain said any friction that once existed between ESA and the European Commission over their respective roles
has since been settled. Government and industry officials in recent months have said privately that the two organizations are in fact more at ease with each other.
The document says civil and military space efforts should be better coordinated, even if they are managed by separate organizations.
Military use of space is less sensitive in Europe now than it was even two years ago, but civilian officials are still uncomfortable with the topic. Asked about Europe’s ambitions in military space, Verheugen said only: “Space is an area where people should cooperate with peaceful means toward peaceful ends.”
The space policy document attempts to split the difference between ESA’s geographic-return principle, which guarantees that each member state’s national industry will receive contracts in proportion to its government’s spending, and the European Commission’s open-competition principle.
Because ESA will not be brought legally into the European Commission, the geographic-return principle – sometimes called “fair return” – will remain. Dordain
already has begun adding flexibility into the system with a view to minimizing its negative effects on European space-industry competitiveness.
The policy urges further improvements to bolster competitiveness while, at the same time, all member governments on board as funding sources.
The European Space Policy makes reference to the Galileo project. But Galileo – whose organization is now being rethought by the European Commission – is the responsibility of European transport ministers, not the industry and research ministers that signed the policy with ESA.
The document nonetheless refers to the likelihood of “military users of Galileo,” a possibility that several European governments, notably Britain, have been reluctant to accept.
The negative publicity surrounding Galileo’s organization and cost overruns has frustrated Verheugen, who along with Dordain has been trying to win 29 nations’ support for a common space policy even as the most spectacular European space endeavor, Galileo, has seemed near collapse.
reacted vehemently when asked whether Galileo was Europe’s most important space endeavor, saying Galileo has a relatively “stupid” infrastructure, much like a highway system, and could not be compared to more-complex and sophisticated efforts such as Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES.
The European Space Policy also urges the European Commission to create legal instruments that make it easier to fund multi
year space projects. While such funding is possible now, commission officials say it is not easy but will be necessary to assure the continuity of user-based space programs.
The first test case for the new space policy will be GMES. The policy document urges a long-term financing for GMES, but is not specific about sources or amounts.